This unusual film entitled “A Promise” is a screen adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s novella “Journey Into the Past” which was published posthumously. It has not received positive reviews although I enjoyed the film and thought it worth the time I spent viewing it.
Alan Rickman - Wikimedia
The events take place in Germany starting in 1912, just prior to the First World War. Friedrich Zeitz (Richard Madden), an engineering graduate who grew up as a ward of the state, obtained a clerical position in a German factory. The owner, Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman) was impressed with the young man’s work habits and took him on as his private secretary. Herr Hoffmeister was quite elderly at the time and had a fainting spell of sorts which Friedrich helped him to overcome. His doctor told him to stay in bed until he regained his strength.
Friedrich Moves In
Friedrich was asked to leave his garret in the city to take up residence with Karl Hoffmeister who had a young wife Lotte (Rebecca Hall) and an eight-year-old son Otto (Toby Murray). Friedrich was hesitant to give up his place in the city since he had a girlfriend, Anna (Shannon Tarbet) who did his laundry and was greatly attached to him. Anna was unhappy with his decision to move on.
Rebecca Hall - Wikimedia
Friedrich and Lotte Meet
Friedrich met Karl’s wife who showed him his living quarters and introduced him to their son Otto. She mentioned that Otto was disinterested in his studies which worried her. Friedrich offered to tutor Otto which Lotte was happy to have him do. Lotte mentioned to him that her fiancé had been killed in an accident and that Karl was a friend of her father’s who offered her a shoulder to cry on at the time. She assumed that Friedrich noticed the age difference that existed between Karl and herself. She was interested to hear about Friedrich’s life but he had nothing to offer.
Friedrich Offers Investment Knowledge to Karl
Friedrich took on additional duties for Herr Hoffmeister, going back and forth from his employer’s home to the factory to meet with various managers. He made himself indispensable to the work. Friedrich mentioned to Karl that Mexico was initiating new methods in steel processing, and Germany would do well to get in on the ground floor of the innovations. His employer was eager to learn more and realized that Friedrich was correct in his statements. He decided to invest in the new process which would be an asset to his factory.
Friedrich is Attracted to Lotte
Friedrich and Lotte had a great deal of time together while Karl was confined to bed. They had their meals together and spent time with Otto and his studies. They also worked a crossword puzzle together which took up much of their time. Karl was happy that Friedrich could accompany his wife to the opera since he did not find that activity to be enjoyable. Friedrich was growing fond of Lotte but had to keep his feelings to himself. He attended the church where she was affiliated even though he was not a church-goer. One day, he spotted her in town, trying to avoid the cold and rain in a doorway. He brought her into his carriage, and rubbed her hands to warm them, a bit excessively at that. He hovered around her piano after she played it, indulging himself by taking in her scent, which was L’Heure Bleu. Lotte was friendly but gave no indication that he was any more than an employee.
Karl Sends Friedrich to Mexico
Karl revealed to Friedrich that he needed a man in Mexico to oversee the operation there, and he felt that Friedrich was the one person who could do the job. Friedrich was surprised since the job would take him away for at least two years. He felt, though, that it was necessary for him to accept it if he wanted to stay in Hoffmeister’s good graces.
The Duo Confess Their Love
Only then did Lotte admit to Friedrich that she loved him and could not live without him. They both realized that they were in an untenable position. They had never allowed their feelings to go further than friendship. They made a promise that they would be faithful to one another while Friedrich was gone, and that they would make their love public when he returned.
World War I Breaks Out
Friedrich and Lotte wrote to each other almost daily, declaring their love and renewing their promise to each other. Unfortunately, the First World War broke out and no ships were allowed to travel between South America and Europe. Mail was unable to get through; communication came to a standstill.
Karl’s Health Declines
Meanwhile, Karl’s health took a turn for the worse. He revealed to Lotte that he knew that she and Friedrich were attracted to each other; in fact, he was willing to have that happen inasmuch as he was in poor health. He had come upon them once as they were talking while very close to each other. Within a short time, Lotte became a widow and placed Otto in a boarding school where she felt he would receive the attention he deserved. She was left, therefore, with no one to dote on, and nothing to live for.
Communication Has Stopped
The two years stretched into four, then six, then eight years. The letters between Friedrich and Lotte had long since stopped. The war came to an end and Germany had lost to the Allies. Then, out of the blue, Lotte received a phone call. Friedrich was back in Germany and would come to visit her the next day.
The ending will not be revealed here. Keep in mind that the pace of the film is slow; the action between the characters causes no tension on the part of the viewer. One wonders what the ending will disclose.
Richard Madden - Wikimedia
“A Promise” was filmed in Belgium and was the English language debut from the French filmmaker Patrice Leconte. The writings of Stefan Zweig have been the inspiration for several films including “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Letter From an Unknown Woman.”
I believe the acting of Alan Rickman saved the day. His charisma is eye-catching. He recently passed away, however, in January 2016, leaving a great void behind in the stable of English actors. Most viewers remember Alan Rickman in his role as Snape in the Harry Potter films. Richard Madden has made his mark in the TV series “Game of Thrones,” but his lifeless portrayal in “A Promise” did nothing to add to his filmography fame. I was not familiar with Rebecca Hall, but she could not raise a spark of chemistry between herself and Richard Madden to add some reality to the film. Much can be blamed on the limp script the actors had to work with.
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